As many of the students at Arapahoe High School have come to know, forgetting the past is hard. No matter how hard we try, the nightmare is still there and the anxiety still stands. So what does it take to finally be free from the past and all the terror it brings.? This idea of breaking the chains of the past is explored in Ian McEwan's novel Atonement.
The dictionary describes atonement as
satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.Is forgiveness the key to freedom? Without the ball and chains of a grudge hanging around the ankles, there's no question what human kind can do. Revenge is captivity, forgiveness is freedom.
My mom's dad married a real gold digger (if I do say so myself) in the last three years of his life. As a pilot and fortunate receiver of a cardiovascular doctor's inheritance, my grandpa retired with more than a million dollars. The million dollars that my grandma had intended to go to her posterity when she died. However, in the last few months of his life, the entirety of the will was handed over to my gold digging ex step grandma. Once my grandpa died, none of his children saw a penny of the money, as it went to the gold digger's son's aspiring music career that never really took off. While I was too young to understand the money that would have paid for most of my college disappeared into the hands of a black haired sugar momma, my mother was livid. The only thing I remember was her constant fuming phone calls to my aunts and uncles, her plans to get back the money, and her spiteful comments here, there, and pretty much everywhere. Her obsession with revenge consumed her. She only thought about getting back at this woman who called herself my grandma. For years it plagued her social life, professional life, and especially her family life. Then one day she simply decided it wasn't worth it. She began on the path of forgiveness, and in part freedom. She is no longer so overwhelmed with revenge and anger as she was long before. She is able to function and make decisions with a clear mind rather than one clouded with revenge.
However, freedom just doesn't come from the forgiveness or atonement of other people, in order to be truly free, one must forgive themselves.
As a young child, Briony commits an act of betrayal and falsehood that she is forced to live with the rest of her life. While she believes she is doing the right thing, she sends an innocent man, her sister's love, to jail and eventually to suffer in the war. Her small act of delusional heroism greatly effects not only her relationship with her sister, but the life of Robbie Wheeler. As she grows and matures into an age where she understands the magnitude of her "mistake," she runs away from all that reminds her of it; her house, her family, even her future plans, all out of hatred of herself. She puts herself to work, hoping to be able to forget her deed, or even make up for it by volunteering as a nurse. She finally decides she can no longer live with the guilt and goes out to atone for her sins. She asks for forgiveness from those who she wronged, and realises the only way she could be free from this mistake is the forgiveness of herself. In her old age she understands that while it was important to seek forgiveness from her sister and Robbie, it was more important to forgive herself. She lived her life with a ball and chain of guilt latched onto her ankle. She couldn't think of anything else besides her wrong doing until she recognised her mistake, and forgave herself.
Like my mom and Briony, people find themselves stuck in a hole of revenge, guilt or anger, that only leads them deeper into the ground. I've found that rather than using energy to continue the hole, its better to forgive, and get oneself out. In Ian McEwan's Atonement, he explores that the only way to truly be free, is forgiveness and atonement.